End Of Fossil Fuels Won’t Come Too Soon For Millions Breathing Toxic Air

Fossil fuels’ days are numbered. That’s a good thing given the toll that burning coal and oil takes on our climate and health. But especially for the people of Beijing — and Delhi and Tehran, among other cities currently choking on dirty emissions — that final goodbye can’t come soon enough.

The images are hard to miss and harder to ignore: women, men, children and even pets enveloped in an almost tangible haze, forced to wear face masks as they go about their daily lives — bicycling, shopping, getting married.

The statistics are equally alarming: More than 4,000 Chinese die daily from air pollution. And that figure may even be an underestimate, as pollution levels have risen since researchers crunched those numbers earlier this year.

A tragedy is indeed unfolding, and threatening to escalate.

On multiple days this December, the air in Beijing measured at least 20 times dirtier than what the World Health Organization deems safe to breathe. The concentration of PM2.5 — the tiny air particles that pose the greatest health risks — reportedly reached 647 micrograms per cubic meter near Tiananmen Square on Christmas morning. This Tuesday, parts of Beijing again registered counts above 500. The WHO sets their limit of exposure at no more than 25 micrograms per cubic meter over a 24-hour period.

Experts warn that the situation will likely worsen in the weeks ahead.

“We’re just getting into high season,” said John Groopman, an environmental health expert at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, as he prepped for a trip to China this week to research the issue. Cold weather, he explained, can trap polluted air near the surface of the earth. Meanwhile, more pollution is generally created during winter months due to increased heating, which is mostly supplied in China by burning coal. —> Read More